Obituary: Professor Maurice Stacey
MAURICE STACEY was a distinguished chemist whose career and achievements scaled the peaks of his profession. His main field of research was into the organic chemistry of carbohydrates, especially of polysaccharides. But in a professional life spent largely at Birmingham University, Stacey considered that his main purpose in life was his university teaching. His encouragement and optimism enabled those of us who worked closely with him at Birmingham to realise our full potential.
He was born in 1907 in Shropshire, a county which he always loved, and via Adam's School, Newport, proceeded to Birmingham University, where he obtained degrees of BSc (Hons), PhD and DSc. He widened his experience at the School of Tropical Medicine, London, and at Columbia University (New York). Appointed lecturer in Chemistry at Birmingham in 1937, he was eventually promoted to Professor of Chemistry in 1946 and became Mason Professor and Head of Department in 1956, a post which he held until his retirement in 1974. He had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1950.
He began his research training at Birmingham under Professor Sir Norman Haworth (winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1937) and was team leader under Haworth and Edmund Hirst of the group which synthesised Vitamin C, in 1932. Stacey personally isolated this, the first synthetic vitamin. For this and related work he was awarded the Meldola Medal of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.
His main research interest in the chemistry of polysaccharides covered the bacterial polyglucose dextran which he helped to develop as a blood plasma substitute. For this he was given the Grand Award of the US National Academy of Sciences and the John Scott Medal and Award of the City of Philadelphia.
During the Second World War Stacey was a member of the 'Tube Alloys' team which worked on the separation of uranium isotopes and in connection with this embarked on the synthesis of fluorocarbons. This led to the formation of a powerful research group in organofluorine chemistry. After the war the research into carbohydrates was extended into many fields and the results published in over 400 papers on the chemistry of deoxysugars, aminosugars and polysaccharides. The work on deoxysugars led to the establishment of a strong research group on nucleic acid chemistry.
Outside his own university Stacey made substantial contributions to founding new universities, served on research councils, travelled widely abroad and maintained close liaison with industry and schools. He received honorary degrees and in 1966 was appointed CBE.
However, Stacey considered that his main purpose in life was to teach at undergraduate and graduate level and he had great faith in his students. He played a large part in improving facilities for students, especially for athletics and sports in which he was very
Stacey bore no resemblance to an aloof 'ivory tower' professor. The personal welfare of all his staff and students was his constant concern. He always found time to discuss their problems, academic or otherwise. He had a keen sense of humour and was perfectly at ease with all types of people. In the local community he was well known and liked. The many prizes he received from their horticultural society (for roses) gave him as much pleasure as the highest accolades of the scientific community. His hobby of collecting scientific antiques gave him contacts with people with a wide range of interest.
Maurice Stacey's memorial is the strong Chemistry department that exists at Birmingham University today. And it is fitting that one of his last public duties was to open the new organic chemistry research laboratories that bear his name.
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